A disturbing chapter from the hit Netflix docuseries "Cheer" seemingly came to a close on Wednesday, when one of the show's stars was sentenced for sex crimes involving minors.
Jerry Harris, 22, was given 12 years in federal prison after he previously pleaded guilty to traveling with the intent of illegal sexual conduct and to soliciting nude images and videos from minors on social media. He was also sentenced to eight years of supervised release after his prison term.
Harris' conviction marked a stunning fall from grace after he emerged as one of the breakout stars of the hit show. His rising celebrity, fueled by his seemingly buoyant persona and upbeat "mat talk," earned him endorsement deals with Starburst, Walmart and Cheerios. He also appeared on the Oscars red carpet for "The Ellen Degeneres Show."
Harris was first arrested in September 2020, several months after allegations of abuse first surfaced. Prosecutors later agreed to drop additional charges of alleged misconduct against other minors as part of the plea deal.
Prosecutors were seeking a 15-year sentence, while Harris' defense team had argued for a shorter sentence, citing abuse he had suffered as a minor in cheerleading, according to USA Today.
Two of Harris' victims, twin boys, gave statements detailing the abuse and the lasting effects it had on them at the sentencing hearing on Wednesday, per USA Today.
"I knew in my heart and soul that what Jerry was doing to me and Sam was bad," one of the boys said. "But everyone was telling me that is just the way Jerry is and that if I were to ever to report him that EVERYONE would turn their back on me because I would have ruined the life of such an amazing person that everyone loved."
They said they decided to come forward when they realized Harris was abusing others.
At the hearing, Harris apologized to his victims, saying, “I am deeply sorry for all the trauma my abuse has caused you. I pray deep down that your suffering comes to an end.”
“I’m not an evil person,” Harris said, according to the Associated Press. “I’m still learning who I am and what my purpose is.”
The Harris case touched off a reckoning within the sport, with its primary governing body suspending or banning scores of alleged abusers since his arrest, USA Today reported.
Harris competed collegiately at Navarro College, a public community college in Coriscana, Texas. The second season of the show dealt with the fallout from his arrest and the allegations against him.